Thursday, October 28, 2004
National security is a central issue in this campaign. We owe it to the American people to have a real debate about the choices President Bush has made, and the choices I would make, to fight and win the war on terror.
That means we must have a great honest national debate on Iraq. The President claims it is the centerpiece of his war on terror. In fact, Iraq was a profound diversion from that war and the battle against our greatest enemy, Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight.
This month, we passed a cruel milestone: more than 1,000 Americans lost in Iraq. Their sacrifice reminds us that Iraq remains, overwhelmingly, an American burden. Nearly 90 percent of the troops—and nearly 90 percent of the casualties—are American. Despite the President’s claims, this is not a grand coalition.
Our troops have served with extraordinary bravery, skill
and resolve. Their service humbles all of us. When I speak to
them, when I look into the eyes of their families, I know
this: We owe them the truth about what we have asked them
to do, and what is still to be done.
In the dark days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Europe to build support. Acheson explained the situation to French President de Gaulle. Then he offered to show him highly classified satellite photos, as proof. De Gaulle waved the photos away, saying: “The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me.” How many world leaders have that same trust in America’s president today?
This President’s failure to tell the truth to us before the war has been exceeded by fundamental errors of judgment during and after the war.
The President now admits to “miscalculations” in Iraq. That is one of the greatest understatements in recent history. His were not the equivalent of accounting errors. They were colossal failures of judgment—and judgment is what we look for in a president.
This is all the more stunning because we’re not talking about 20/20 hindsight. Before the war, before he chose to go to war, bi-partisan Congressional hearings, major outside studies, and even some in the administration itself, predicted virtually every problem we now face.
This President was in denial. He hitched his wagon to the ideologues who surround him, filtering out those who disagreed, including leaders of his own party and the uniformed military. The result is a long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences.
The administration told us we’d be greeted as liberators. They were wrong.
They told us not to worry about looting or the sorry state of Iraq’s infrastructure. They were wrong.
They told us we had enough troops to provide security, defeat the insurgents, guard the borders, and secure the arms depots. They were wrong.
They told us we could rely on exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to build political legitimacy. They were wrong.
They told us we would quickly restore an Iraqi civil service to run the country and a police force and army to secure it. They were wrong.
In Iraq, this administration has consistently over-promised
and under-performed. This policy has been plagued by a lack of
planning, an absence of candor, arrogance, and outright
incompetence. And the President has held no one accountable,
Think about it for a minute. Consider where we were, and where we are. After the events of September 11, we had an opportunity to bring our country and the world together in the struggle against the terrorists. On September 12th, headlines in newspapers abroad declared “we are all Americans now.” But through his policy in Iraq, the President squandered that moment and rather than isolating the terrorists, left America isolated from the world.>
The President’s policy in Iraq precipitated the very problem he said he was trying to prevent. Secretary of State Powell admits that Iraq was not a magnet for international terrorists before the war. Now it is, and they are operating against our troops.
Let me put it plainly: The President’s policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it.
The President should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major powers and Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where many leaders will attend the UN General Assembly. He should insist that they make good on that UN resolution. He should offer potential troop contributors specific, but critical roles, in training Iraqi security personnel and securing Iraq’s borders. He should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts.
Second, the President must get serious about training Iraqi security forces. He should urgently expand the security forces training program inside and outside Iraq. He should strengthen the vetting of recruits, double classroom training time, and require follow-on field training. He should recruit thousands of qualified trainers from our allies, especially those who have no troops in Iraq. He should press our NATO allies to open training centers in their countries. And he should stop misleading the American people with phony, inflated numbers.
Third, the President must carry out a reconstruction plan that finally brings tangible benefits to the Iraqi people.
Last week, the administration admitted that its plan was a failure when it asked Congress for permission to radically revise spending priorities in Iraq. It took 17 months for them to understand that security is a priority…17 months to figure out that boosting oil production is critical…17 months to conclude that an Iraqi with a job is less likely to shoot at our soldiers.
One year ago, the administration asked for and received $18 billion to help the Iraqis and relieve the conditions that contribute to the insurgency. Today, less than a $1 billion of those funds have actually been spent. I said at the time that we had to rethink our policies and set standards of accountability. Now we’re paying the price.
Now, the President should look at the whole reconstruction package…draw up a list of high visibility, quick impact projects, and cut through the red tape. He should use more Iraqi contractors and workers, instead of big corporations like Halliburton.
Fourth, the President must take immediate, urgent, essential steps to guarantee the promised elections can be held next year. Credible elections are key to producing an Iraqi government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people and an assembly to write a Constitution that yields a viable power-sharing arrangement.
Because Iraqis have no experience holding free and fair elections, the President agreed six months ago that the UN must play a central role. Yet today, just four months before Iraqis are supposed to go to the polls, the UN Secretary General and administration officials themselves say the elections are in grave doubt.
The President should recruit troops from our friends and allies for a UN protection force. This won’t be easy. But even countries that refused to put boots on the ground in Iraq should still help protect the UN We should also intensify the training of Iraqis to manage and guard the polling places that need to be opened. Otherwise, US forces would end up bearing those burdens alone.
If the President would move in this direction—if he would bring in more help from other countries to provide resources and forces, train the Iraqis to provide their own security, develop a reconstruction plan that brings real benefits to the Iraqi people, and take the steps necessary to hold credible elections next year, we could begin to withdraw US forces starting next summer and realistically aim to bring all our troops home within the next four years.
This is what has to be done. This is what I would do as President today.For a complete transcript of this speech go to http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/19947/